Photo Essay

The Invisible Man

Invisible Man

There are approximately 114,000 homeless individuals living in New York City, including nearly 3,300 people living in the subway system.

For the most part, we the riding public are apathetic towards these indigent people and show little interest or concern for their plight. We've heard their sob stories hundreds of times, indulged their singing and dancing routines, and treated their panhandling as minor nuisances that are part and parcel of the subway riding experience. I, for one, simply cranked up the volume on my iPod or buried my face in my newspaper, trying my best to tune out.

But that cold indifference changed for me earlier this winter when I noticed a barefooted, seminude older man, squatting below an empty station agent booth at the subway stop below Bank of America Tower at 42nd Street and 6th Ave. It was quite obvious from the way he looked that the man was mentally unstable, but what was absolutely astounding to me was that in the 10 minutes or so that I stood there waiting for my train, no one offered a helping hand towards this man. Not one single person, including myself.

The hundreds of bank workers that streamed off the arriving trains during that time, all walked pass him as if he was totally invisible. They may have glanced in his direction, or even temporarily broken their strides, but not one single individual stopped to inquire if this man needed help. Eventually my train arrived and I also left without doing anything. But the thought that we live in a society where cold, half naked, barefooted elderly men are tolerated was too much to concede. Are we really that bereft of feeling towards each other?

Honestly, the thought about being an advocate for the homeless never once crossed my mind. Like everyone else, I simply just did not care and blamed the unfortunate conditions the homeless found themselves in, on them. Once, I even wrote a farcical essay about the positive economic impact of public immolation of the homeless. Admittedly, that essay was vile, contemptible, juvenile and ultimately utter nonsense. But as I ruminated over what I observed that morning on the subway platform, I decided that in my own small way, to use my images to try to bring these Invisible Men to the forefront and possibly highlight this growing problem of homelessness in the New York City subway system.

To that end, this project will be an ongoing effort and will be updated frequently. In the interim, I implore you to look up local outreach organizations that help the homeless leave the streets and transition towards a better life. Naïve? Maybe, but I think it is worthy if through our efforts we can positively change the life of one of our fellow human beings.

Coalition for the Homeless, NYC Department of Homeless Services

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14 responses

  • Megan Green

    Megan Green gave props (23 Dec 2009):

    Excellent work. Keep it up.

  • Cynthia Drake

    Cynthia Drake said (23 Dec 2009):

    My 5 year old granddaughter was looking at this photo with me and she asked why it was blurry. She knows that when I take a picture and it comes out blurry I feel I have messed up (and I have!) So we looked at it together and talked about it and worked out that the people in motion (and thus blurry) had homes and jobs and were in a hurry to get there, but the seated man was homeless and had noplace to go so he was still and in focus.

    This piece is brilliant.

  • Luke Everett

    Luke Everett gave props (29 Mar 2010):

    Very well done. This essay is both powerful in image and more so in word!! I completely enjoyed being moved while viewing and humbled by reading the story!! My VOTE!! Great job

  • Line Storlid

    Line Storlid gave props (3 Oct 2010):

    A great story, MY Vote for a wonderfull jobb!

  • Chris Jennings

    Chris Jennings said (21 Jan 2011):

    Yes, this is a story that must continue to be told. Especially with images this strong.

  • Tim E

    Tim E (Deleted) gave props (27 Feb 2011):

    this is a really wonderful story. thanks for sharing.

  • Lori D'Ambrosio

    Lori D'Ambrosio said (12 Jul 2011):

    Your story is well written and the images powerful. You have touched my heart and opened my eyes. Thank you.

  • Carlo Pagan

    Carlo Pagan gave props (18 Jul 2011):


  • John Linton

    John Linton gave props (18 Jul 2011):

    Hell YEAH! Rad!

  • John Linton

    John Linton gave props (18 Jul 2011):

    Oh...and congrats on making Story of the Week!

  • Dwayne John

    Dwayne John gave props (18 Jul 2011):

    Thanks to everyone that voted for and commented on the story. Special shout out to Lori D'Ambrosio for the nomination. I'm humbled and honored for the recognition.

  • Carol Arntsen Masiak

    Carol Arntsen Masiak gave props (19 Jul 2011):

    congrats on story of the week - so well deserved on this phenomenal narrative and photo essay - powerful words and images - definitely my vote!

  • Daniel Iván

    Daniel Iván said (19 Jul 2011):

    I think, besides of the magnificent pictures, this sort of stories are always needed. If there's something I can respect about true art, is that it is always needed. Bravo.

  • Nicolette de Joncaire

    Nicolette de Joncaire   gave props (23 Jul 2011):

    You story is sincere and confronts us to our own idifference and cruelty. You are not judgemental, just matter of fact. The fact of the matter is that poverty, illness and mental imbalances scare us so we turn the other side. After your easy I will try to longer look the other way.

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